Forbes receiving backlash for including only 1 woman on its top 100 innovators list

Forbes published its list of the 100 most innovative leaders in America. The publication is receiving backlash for including just one woman, Ross Stores CEO Barbara Rentler.

Rentler ranked 75 on the list, and her name was published without a photo–unlike 91 men featured on the list.

Some claimed the avatar, which stood as a placeholder for Rentler’s photo, was of a man’s silhouette. When the Daily Dot looked into it on Sunday, the avatar was of a woman’s silhouette.

Three men reportedly put together the list, Jeff Dyer, Nathan Furr, and Mike Hendron. Dyer is a BYU Marriott School of Business professor and Furr is an assistant professor at INSEAD, a business school in Fontainebleau, France.

In an email to the Daily Dot, Furr said the lack of women on the list was of “great concern” to them, but they didn’t feel right to “cheat the numbers” and adjust the scale.

“We are working with an organization to create a list of women leaders because we believe wholeheartedly that women need to be given equal attention,” he said. “But we really struggled with this list, since, there are very few women CEOs and because our list is built on objective measures related to press coverage, increase in market cap due to innovation, etc.”

Furr said that the underlying problem is that there are fewer women CEOs in charge of innovative companies.

“It didn’t feel honest to cheat the numbers and advance women CEOs not on the list by the numbers. The issue was exacerbated by the fact that it is a list of CEOs which meant that leading lights such as Indra Nooyi could not be included as easily because they have stepped into a different role or are not the CEO,” Furr added.

Furr didn’t respond to questions regarding Rentler’s avatar.

Rentler, who has been the Ross Stores CEO since 2014, has turned a massive profit for the company, according to a Fortune profile. Fortune claims Rentler wouldn’t pose for a photo.

But, as many pointed out, there are still photos of her available online. 

People were critical of the methodology that went into compiling the list. According to a detailed explanation, the authors created a composite measure they “believe represent important qualities of an innovative leader.” One of the factors taken into account was the CEO’s reputation in media coverage, specifically related to innovation, which their research found a directly correlates with the market value of the company. Other factors taken into account were social capital and following, the increase in the market value of the CEO’s company, and the investors’ expectation that the company’s innovation will grow.

Many pointed out that the methodology seems to ignore the systematic challenges stacked against women in leadership roles.

“The methodology—limiting “leaders” to US CEOs of $10bn market cap cos, weighting media perception and social following—just compounds existing biases,” one user wrote.

Some commented on the methodology, while others pointed out the researchers should’ve questioned their methodology after seeing the results churned out just one woman. 

“Come on, @Forbes. If your methodology produced only one woman out of the 100 most innovative leaders, obviously you should have challenged it rather than publishing it,” Valerie Jarrett wrote.

Beyond the lack of women, many pointed out that the list is filled with predominantly white men. 

“Seems only one woman, maybe one Black man, zero non-binary people in ‘America’s Most Innovative Leaders’ list,” founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels Natalia Oberti Noguera wrote. “Methodology’s flawed–these results don’t represent “the most creative and successful minds of today.'”

The Daily Dot has reached out to Dyer and Hendron for comment. 

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Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque